Michael Torres, freshman communications major and a member of Hispanic American Leadership Organization, was inspired by his pen pal to pursue higher education when he was in elementary school. Now, he wants to do the same.
“It was something that was fun, and it got me curious about different things like what to do after I get out of my primary school,” Torres said. “(Our private school) had a small group of students, but learning there is a whole other community, basically, that you can go to – that was something interesting to me as a little kid.”
Torres signed up for the Pen Pal Program in conjunction with Riverside Elementary School organized by H.A.L.O and Community Hornets last week. The deadline for all contracts is due by March 16 to the Center of Student Involvement office in the East Lobby of the Memorial Union.
“I want to tell the kid that I’m studying in communications,” Torres said. “And then tell them I want to go on to help different organizations or people in the community and then reach out to other children like themselves, specifically Hispanics, maybe share that little aspect of my life with them so that they can learn to reach out and help other people.”
Riverside has about a 74 percent Hispanic population, including a large number of ELL students. It has 57 fourth grade students participating in this program, so the program expects 57 ESU participants, said Pablo Loyola, sophomore pre-engineering major and vice president of Community Service and Fundraising for H.A.L.O.
Participants will be paired up with elementary pen pals after spring break, and they will get a chance to meet each other after two or three times exchanging letters at the end of April.
“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to be part of this program and work with the great people at ESU,” said Ryan Bodensteiner, fourth grade teacher at Riverside. “I know that my students are always enthusiastic about meeting and talking with older students who have similar backgrounds and interests. If this program can help spark an interest in a future career or college path, it will be a great success.”
This is the first pen pal program for H.A.L.O., Loyola said. He said many kids struggle with reading and writing, so he created this program to help elementary students practice reading and writing skills.
“It allows us to practice writing skills such as capitalization, paragraph forming and punctuation that many of our students struggle with as fourth graders,” Bodensteiner said. “As well, providing students with positive mentors and contacts is invaluable as we try to stress continuing education, college and careers to our students. Having role models who are going through this experience and who they can communicate with is fabulous for these 10-year-olds.”